Aranyakas: The Forest Books Of Vedas.

The vedic literature was born in India roughly in the year between 700 to 900 BC. The vedas are considered to be the amalgamation of knowledge. They were preserved in the Sanskrit manuscript, and the text comprises the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and hinduism. There are four vedas, namely Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samveda and Atharvabeda. Further, these vedas are divided into various subdivisions like the Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. There is a second school of thought which beliefs in the fifth subdivision known as the Upasanas. Each of these divisions has a precise divisive role in rituals and sacrifices.

 

Samhitas consist of the mantras and blessings, while the Aranyakas are the backbone of rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices. The Brahmanas which comprises the commentaries to be done for rituals and sacrifices and Upanishads that tells about the open dialogue discussion done during meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge. Upasana, considered to be the fifth subdivision, tells us about the vidhi to worship. Brahmanas were developed as a mode of explanation for performing the sacrifice and rituals.

Later, Aranyaka came into the scene. The Sanskrit meaning of Aranyaka means “forest book”. One of the major differences between Brahmanas and Arayankas is that Aranyakas contain details about confidential ceremonies that are done by specific people. They are more philosophical than the Brahmanas.

Origin And Details Of Aranyakas

Aranyakas were first written in the forest and were also called as the forest books. They are the culminating part of Brahmans. Aranyakas, generally do not emphasise more on the ceremony, custom practice or sacrifice; instead, they tend to focus on philosophy and spiritualism. They lay more focus on the moral values of the karya rather than the vidhi. They form the connective link between karma marga and the gyan marga. Karma was the main focus of Brahmanas, while the gyan was supported by the upanishads. Aranyakas also produce details about the hermits who lived in jungles.

 

The main intention behind their creation was to be studied only by the person who initiated it or by the rishis who migrated, got settled in the forests and did not take part in anymore sacrifices. There are seven types of Aranyaks, namely Aitreya aranyakas, Sankhayan Aranyakas, Taittiriya Aranyakas, Maitriyani Arnayakas, Madhyandini Vrihadaranyakas , Talvakar Aranyakas and Jaimini Arnayaks. Each one of them is specific in nature. Know about the elements and hierarchy of aranyakas from experts.

Hierarchy And Structure

The Aranyaks are an amalgamation of various contents and give a homogenous look to its content. They extract the character from Samhita, Brahmana, Sutra and different material changing from one veda to another veda and from one shakha to another shaka. Most of the Aranyaka text includes philosophical meanings of mantras, identification, myths and their interpretations. But the Aranyakas by sage Arunaketu includes hymns with deeper philosophical insight as well. As mentioned earlier, there are several aranyakas that is the subdivision of the vedas. Let us discuss this in brief about them.

Aranyaka Of Rigveda

It contains Aitareya Aranyaka that belongs to the Aitareya shakha of Rigveda and Kaushitaki Aranyaka which belongs to the Kaushitaki and Sankhayana shakhas of Rigveda.

Aranyaka Of Yajurveda

Taittiriya, Maitrayaniya, katha and Brihad aranyakas belong to the respective shakas of the Yajurveda.

Aranyaka Of Samaveda

Jaiminiya or the Talavakara aranyakas belong to the respective shakhas of samveda.

 

The Atharvaveda does not have any aranyaka which has survived the time; however,  the Gopatha Brahmana in some script is considered as an Aranyaka. This Brahmana is a remnant of a Paippalada Brahmana.

Aitareya Aranyaka

This consists of five sub Aranyaka. The first chapter consists of “mahaa-vrata” that explains the ceremonial as well as speculative part. The second one has six sub chapters out of which three chapters tell about the prana vayu, the vital air that is responsible for breathing and life. Praana vidya constitutes the health of a living body as well as the health of a chant or mantra. This portion of Aranyaka tells us about the person who follows the vedic instructions and performs the yagna in actual become the Agni deva, suryadev, varun deva and one who disgraces the veda goes on the yoni of lower life, namely avians and reptiles.

The last three chapters form the Aitareya Upanishad. The third main chapter forms the samhitopanishad. This will explain the karma and how to recite the nuances. The fourth and fifth chapter gives the technical knowledge about the mantras known as mahaanaamni and yagna known as madhandina.

Taittiriya Aranyaka

It consists of ten chapters. Chapter one to six comprises the aranyaka proper. The first two chapters belong to the astau kathakani. They did not originally belong to the Taittiriya Shakha. They were instead adopted from the Kathaka Shakha and dealt with the ceremony related to agni and their vedic knowledge.

Katha Aranyaka

It is a prototype of taittiriya. IT has been preserved in a Kashmiri birchbark manuscript. However, it is not translated into the modern script.

Kaushitaki Aranyaka

It is also called as Shankyayana Aranyaka and consists of fifteen chapters. Chapter one and two deals with mahavrata, from chapter three to sie are the kaushitaki upanishad while chapter seven and eight are called the samhitopanishad. Chapter nine discusses the prana, while chapter 10 deals with the ceremony of agni. Chapter eleven tells about the remedy for avoiding death or sickness. It can all tell about the description of a dream. Chapter twelve tells about the rewards of the ceremony. Chapter thirteen describes philosophy and spiritualism. Chapter fourteen and fifteen tell about the meaning of chanting a mantra in the correct way and what can be the consequence of reciting any rituals in the wrong way.

In the deep sea of ancient Indian vedas, there is no clear marked difference between the Aranyakas and the Brahmanas. Similarly, there is no clear boundary between the Aranyakas and Upanishads as we have seen certain upanishads are part of the Aranyakas. Aranyakas, along with Brahmanas, represents the evolution in the vedic practices. This evolution completes with the transition of ancient Indian philosophy from the sacrificial ceremonies to the philosophical upanishads.